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Urbanization, climate change and flood policy in the United States

Abstract

The average annual cost of floods in the United States has been estimated at about $2 billion (current US dollars). The federal government, through the creation of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), has assumed responsibility for mitigating the societal and economic impacts of flooding by establishing a national policy that provides subsidized flood insurance. Increased flood costs during the past two decades have made the NFIP operate at a deficit. This paper argues that our current understanding of climate change and of the sensitivity of the urban environment to floods call for changes to the flood policy scheme. Conclusions are drawn on specific examples from cities along the heavily urbanized corridor of northeastern United States. Mesoscale and global models along with urbanization and economic growth statistics are used to provide insights and recommendations for future flood costs under different emissions scenarios. Mesoscale modeling and future projections from global models suggest, for example, that under a high emissions scenario, New York City could experience almost twice as many days of extreme precipitation that cause flood damage and are disruptive to business as today. The results of the paper suggest that annual flood costs in the United States will increase sharply by the end of the 21st Century, ranging from about $7 to $19 billion current US dollars, depending on the economic growth rate and the emissions scenarios. Hydrologic, hydraulic and other related uncertainties are addressed and a revised version of the NFIP is suggested.

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Correspondence to Alexandros A. Ntelekos.

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Ntelekos, A.A., Oppenheimer, M., Smith, J.A. et al. Urbanization, climate change and flood policy in the United States. Climatic Change 103, 597–616 (2010) doi:10.1007/s10584-009-9789-6

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Keywords

  • Flood Risk
  • Flood Damage
  • Tropical Cyclone Activity
  • Flood Insurance
  • Flood Loss